Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will the Stimulus Package Work?

Members of the House and the Senate working on the final version of the stimulus on Wednesday. The fragile consensus, and the president’s agenda, face many tests in coming months.

WASHINGTON — It is a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one. The question now is whether the $789 billion economic stimulus plan agreed to by Congressional leaders on Wednesday is the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda from President Obama or a harbinger of reduced expectations.

Both the substance of his first big legislative accomplishment and the way he achieved it underscored the scale of the challenges facing the nation and how different a political climate this is from the early stages of recent administrations.

While it hammered home the reality of bigger, more activist government, the economic package was not the culmination of a hard-fought ideological drive, like Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights and Great Society programs, or Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, but rather a necessary and hastily patched-together response to an immediate and increasingly dire situation. On the domestic issues Mr. Obama ran and won on — health care, education, climate change, rebalancing the distribution of wealth — the legislation does little more than promise there will be more to come.

In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right.

In the end, Congress did not come together to address what Mr. Obama has regularly suggested is a crisis that could rival the Great Depression. What consensus has been forged so far is likely to be tested in the months to come as he faces scrutiny over the effectiveness of the stimulus package and the likelihood that he will have to ask Congress for substantially more money to heal the fractures in the financial system. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/us/politics/12assess.html?_r=1&hp

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